Edited by Dr. Bev Snyder, Counselor and Coach
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times….”
Proverbs 18:24 “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
It is sad to see the number of women and men who feel they are walking alone. In a church like ours, where we are practicing to Love Like Jesus, one of the deeper goals is in getting members truly connected to one another in a friendship that will lead to growth, encouragement, and a richer life experience. Unfortunately, the fast-paced life we lead today often interferes with such growth between individuals.
We need each other. We were created for relationship with one another. As with every other worthy goal in our lives, it takes effort. We don’t just say we want to be healthier. We watch what we eat and implement exercise to make every effort to achieve that goal. We don’t just say we want to build wealth. We monitor our spending, make a plan, and stay diligent with debt reduction and adhering to a budget.
Likewise, we cannot just say we want friends, or we’re lonely and don’t have any friends. We must be intentional in being a good friend, developing strong connections with others, and nurturing both old and new relationships.
Here are a few tips to help:
1. Let it go. The relationship is more important than being right. You cannot be in relationship with anyone – friend, coworker, parent, child – without encountering conflict. There will be times when you have been legitimately wronged. Your friend may say the wrong thing, handle a situation the wrong way, or be unfair. However, the most important thing you can do in a relationship is to let go of the need to be validated or right. If the friendship is important, then let the grievance go. Forgive quickly and often. You’ll both need that grace throughout the friendship!
2. Be honest. When your advice is solicited, be honest. If your friend wants to know how the dress looks and it isn’t flattering on her body shape, tell her in a loving, kind, and honest way. If they want to know what you think about the new boyfriend, job opportunity, or book idea, commit to open and honest communication. True friends are those that can be honest with one another, sharpening each other through real feedback. This is where we grow. (Note: You must be the type of friend who can also receive honesty, as well!)
3. Agree to disagree. You won’t agree on every subject. Yes, there are likely similarities that brought you together in the first place, but we are uniquely and wonderfully made. We have a variety of life experiences. Those factors will mean that we will likely disagree from time to time. Learn to disagree in a healthy way. Learn to respect others’ viewpoints, even when you disagree.
4. Develop the art of truly listening. Put down the phone. Don’t think about what you’ll say next or where you need to be or the load of clothes in the dryer or the homework you’ll have to help with later. Be present in the moment. Truly hear with your spiritual ears what your friend is saying. Sometimes, the art of truly listening and ensuring your friend feels heard is the most supportive thing you can offer, and it can be life-changing!
5. Make time for what matters. Be intentional. We are all busy. We all have lots going on. We all are balancing carpool, homework, family demands, work-life, and ministry demands. Those who have long-lasting friendships are the ones who take the time to nurture those friendships. Place the phone call. Send a birthday card in the mail. Schedule an outing. Invite a friend over for dinner. It is very hard to be friends with those who don’t take the time to make the friendship important in their lives.
6. Don’t be needy. Nothing will kill a friendship faster than someone who always needs to talk, needs to visit, needs to be nurtured, or needs to have someone by their side. Yes, there are times for that. However, don’t make someone an idol in your life. Friends are for growth, laughter, wise counsel, and enjoyment, but they are not our source of strength, hope, and life. That comes from our Savior. Friends will get busy with schedules and family. Maybe certain seasons at work are particularly demanding. Allow the friendship to flow as it may without needing to talk every day or check in constantly. Healthy friendships are those that have much grace for schedules.
7. Laugh hard. Laugh so hard you cry. Watch a good movie. Tell childhood stories. Share embarrassing moments. Laughter is good for the soul.
8. Lay down offense, bitterness, and anger. We cannot be easily offended by everything that is said and expect to have deep connections with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Those who are easily offended are often those who don’t have friends. It becomes too hard to walk on eggshells around those who are so easily offended. We cannot be quick to anger and permeate bitterness and offense and expect to have a plethora of friends. If this is an area of struggle for you, commit to work on this and watch how your friendships flourish.
9. Be selfless. How can you serve another? Relationships ebb and flow. There will be seasons of time when you do much of the serving and times when they will. There will be times when you are busy, emotional, burdened, and stressed, and need to be on the receiving end of a servant’s heart. But there will be times when you are on the giving end. Bake a cake. Babysit the kids for free. Cook dinner. Wash the car. Clean house. Surprise them with a kind act of service.
10. Faithfulness matters. Be the type of friend who will honor friends with words both in front of them and when they aren’t around. Be true. Be steady. Be a faithful friend that sticks around when the going gets tough. When conflict arises, and it very well may, stick around. Don’t run at the first sign of a challenge. Those who have long friendships will attest to the fact that faithfulness and basic stick-to-it grit and determination to make the friendship work matters. We want those friends who will sit by our bed and hold our hands when we are too depressed to get out of bed. We want a friend who will clean up after us when we are sick… The friend who will babysit our children, because we have had a tough week… The friend who will drive us to chemo if cancer comes calling.
11. Be an encourager. Edify one another. Iron sharpens iron. Do you think that your friend feels uplifted and encouraged when they leave a lunch date with you feeling exhausted? Look for ways to speak to their gifts and talents. Find ways to encourage their strengths. Offer wise counsel through the power of the Holy Spirit. Be the friend that others want to be around. Yes, there will be times when you need the encouraging, of course. There will be times when the weight of life is heavy, and you won’t always be the encourager, but always be intentional with encouragement! If you are always doom-and-gloom, it will be much harder to keep friendships. Bring light and hope wherever you go.
(Many of the ideas above are credited to Jennifer Maggio who is a Christian author and speaker.)